Profile of a Possible Savior: Mike Brey

Subtitled:  "Wherein TVP makes the case for Mike Brey"

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Previously on Profile of a Possible Savior...we've profiled a bunch of dudes.  Today's candidate is Mike Brey,
the almost 52 year old coach of Notre Dame.

1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?


Not yet...but he's close on the "consistently been highly ranked" depending on your definition of "highly."  He's in his 11th season at Notre Dame with unquestionably his best team.  They are in line for a top seed in the NCAA tournament.  He's made the NCAAs 7 of the 11 seasons (counting this year) but has made the S16 only once.  His 07 and 08 teams finished 20th and 15th, respectively, in the final pre-tournament AP poll, and they are ranked 4th in the latest AP poll, so the trend line is certainly good.  Notre Dame's seeds in their NCAAT years:

2001: 6, 2002: 8, 2003: 5, 2007: 6, 2008: 5, 2010: 6

They've been in the top 40 in Ken Pom's rankings every year except one (and that was 48th) since 2003; on the other hand, they have not finished higher than 20th any year (currently 15th).

2. Has he built a program from the ground up?


In a sense.  He took over from Matt Doherty, who was only there for one season.  ND had not reached the NCAAs since 1990, and Brey promptly took them to three straight his first three years.  The next three years ND was in the NIT, before rebounding in 2007.

His record at Delaware (see below) was good and an improvement but I don't know if it qualifies as "building from the ground up."

3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?


Yes, as described above.

4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?

 Yes; prior to ND he was at Delaware for five seasons and one the America East conference twice during his time there.

5.  Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?

Obviously, and besides ND he spent 8 years as an assistant at Duke immediately prior to going to Delaware.

6.  Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?

 Yes.  That's not a normal thing; they finished tied for second once under Brey and won their "division" (apparently the BE had divisions at one time) in his first year, but typically you would not consider them in the Georgetown, Syracuse, UConn class.

7.  Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?

I love profiling these guys with an actual track record.  Short answer is that Brey's teams are not strong defensively, relatively speaking.

Their Ken Pom D rankings, starting with this year and going backwards:  64, 132, 85, 42, 49, 120, 64, 85, 113.

The main culprit?  They are allergic to forcing turnovers.  They CONSISTENTLY rank in the 300s, and often down at the very bottom 330-340 range, in TOs forced.  EFG% is usually just average, they are usually good at defensive rebounding and not fouling.

8.  Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?

No, and this may be worrisome.  In the past ten years he's only signed three top-50 players (Luke Zeller, Torin Francis, Chris Thomas) and only a handful of other top 100 players.  None in the past few classes, this year included. 

Then again, he's in the top 5 with those guys...but I tend to believe pretty strongly in recruiting rankings for basketball, so this is a concern.

On the other hand, how much of that is on him and how much is on Notre Dame?  More in a minute. 

9. Does he run the Princeton offense?

As you'd expect, ND's offense makes up for their defense.  They are consistently excellent offensively:  Offensive Eff ratings of 2, 6, 19, 22, 10, 6, 51, 17, and 9 nationally from 2011 back to 2003.  That is absolutely stellar.

The standouts are generally very low TO percentage and excellent shooting, while doing pretty well on rebounding and getting to the line.  They usually take (and make) a lot of threes but the tempo has varied wildly.  The profile is somewhat similar to what we see from Duke many years.  I have not watched them play much but I don't get the sense from the numbers that he's running the PO.

ETA: He apparently calls his system the "94 Foot Motion Offense" in this instructional video:

10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?

The Duke connection.  None others as best I can tell. 

11. Any other random red flags or positives?

Well, going from a Sidney Lowe's refined and often daring sartorial elegance to a guy who wears nothing but mock turtlenecks with a dark blazer...that will be a disappointment, I won't lie.

But if rumor has it, the ladies dig his style.  So much so that he had an affair and was on the verge of getting fired for violating the university's conduct policy, allegedly:


Would he be better than Herb?

 The record says yes.  Keep in mind that Herb only got us to a 6 seed or better once in his tenure here.  Brey is about to do that for his 6th time.  To me, 6 seed is a good dividing line between "team that will be very lucky to make a run" and "team that has a decent chance to see the second weekend and maybe do more."  He's also about to lose less than 10 games in a season for the 3rd time in his tenure, again something Herb was unable to do.

You'll recall that Brey's name was bandied about in 2006 and the reaction was mostly negative.  At the time, some thought he was on a hot seat at ND.  The negative reaction was not crazy; he had made three NCAAs at ND with other people's recruits, then only reached the NIT in the next three years.  At the time, it was very questionable whether Brey would ever do anything with his own players.  The last five years have answered that question in the affirmative for Brey.

Would he take the job if offered?

 Who knows?  What I do strongly suspect is that he'll try to parlay his success this year - with 6 seniors on the roster - into something advantageous.  Whether that's more money at ND or a new opportunity is an open question. Conventional wisdom certainly says that he won't jump ship now.  But let's dig deeper.

Per this article from last year, Brey made 1.2 million total in 2009: He has a contract extension through at least 2015.  No clue on the buyout.

Notre Dame has one very big advantage over NCSU:  Nationwide name recognition that we'll never be able to match. 

But query how much that helps them in basketball.  ND basketball is of course always going to be second fiddle to ND football.  Speaking personally, I know a guy who grew up in Kentucky and went to ND for college.  Guess who he pulls for in basketball and football?  In state, they have to compete with Indiana and Purdue for any local recruits.  In their conference, they'll be hard pressed to overtake Syracuse, Georgetown, UConn, or Lousiville; Pitt and Nova both have great coaches who will be there forever; St. John's is resurging; and other programs like Marquette, Cincy, and WVU also have a lot to offer and good coaches.  ND may be only the 10th-11th best job in the Big East.  

And of course ND has some stringent academic standards and conduct policies.  And winters in South Bend.

All this, to me, adds up to a place where it's probably pretty tough to recruit.  To be more precise:  ND probably appeals strongly to a certain subset of recruits but not at all to most recruits.  May not be PC, but I cannot help but notice that most of their better recruits under Brey and even before that have been of the Caucasian variety.

Brey is a guy who has been rumored to be on the hot seat a couple of times already for on court and off court problems.  If a quality ACC job offered him a fresh start and a substantial raise...does he turn that down?

How would I feel if he were hired?

I have to say...pretty good, actually.  I think what he's done at ND is really impressive given the challenges.  He's not my preferred guy stylistically, and he's not sexy.  But if he can consistently (more or less) crank out not just NCAA teams, but 5-6 seed NCAA teams at ND, wouldn't he do at least that well and probably better in an easier conference with (if history is any guide) better recruiting prospects?  Wouldn't we all be happy with that over the next 10 years?

Put it this way - is Tubby Smith really a better option than Brey at this point?  How about a mid-major that could do just about anything, good or bad?

How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?

 I'll go back to the factions again.  The message board crowd will be deeply divided: (a) many of them have a negative impression of Brey because they remember him as the guy who was "about to get fired" at ND in 2006, and (b) because many think we can get Barnes, Miller, Wright, Dixon, whoever, and (c) because he was an assistant at Duke 15 years ago.

Joe State Fan is ecstatic that we hired away the coach of a team that was in the top 5 this year.

Both the fan reaction, and the likelihood of Brey taking the job if offered, may really vary based on ND's tournament performance this year.